Using Discussion Frames and Focused Transcript Coding to Support Pre-service Teachers’ Facilitation of Argumentation Discussions in Science

Workshop Focus and Relevance

The focus of this workshop is to introduce participants to two types of tools—discussion frames and focused transcript coding—to support pre-service teachers (PSTs) as they learn to lead high-quality argumentation discussions in science. These tools were designed to help PSTs prepare for, facilitate, and then reflect upon those discussions. In what follows, we argue that this workshop is relevant to science teacher education because: (1) argumentation is an essential scientific practice, (2) PSTs need to practice facilitating argumentation discussions, and (3) PSTs need support in preparing for and reflecting upon those discussions. We then briefly describe the tools and the context in which they were used.

In science, argumentation focuses on the use of sufficient and relevant evidence and reasoning and the consideration of competing ideas and methods to reach agreement about explanations of natural phenomena (Kuhn, 2010; McNeill, 2011; Osborne et al., 2013). Engaging in Argument from Evidence is included as one of eight Scientific and Engineering Practices within the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States, 2013). In order for students to fully engage in this practice, they must have opportunities to participate in well-designed and facilitated argumentation discussions. These discussions help develop students’ epistemic practices, thinking processes, and conceptual understanding (e.g., Chinn, 2006; Duschl & Osborne, 2002). Such discussions encourage students to engage in argument construction, explaining and justifying their reasoning, and argument critique, where students add onto and critique one another’s ideas (Gonzalez-Howard & McNeill, 2019; Grooms, Sampson, & Enderle, 2018; McNeill, Katsh-Singer, González-Howard, & Loper, 2016).

In order to prepare to teach science, PSTs must learn to facilitate argumentation discussions (Marco-Bujosa, Gonzalez-Howard, McNeill, & Loper, 2017; Windschitl, Thompson, Braaten, & Stroupe, 2012). These discussions are complex and challenging for PSTs and inservice teachers alike (Davis, Petish, & Smithey, 2006; Simon, Erduran, & Osborne, 2006). One way for PSTs to learn to facilitate argumentation discussions is to engage in Practice-Based Teacher Education (PBTE), practicing discussions using various approximations of practice such as peer teaching or the use of simulated classroom discussions (Lampert et al., 2013; Mikeska, Howell, & Straub, 2019; Windschitl et al., 2012). PSTs also need ways to prepare to facilitate and, later, to reflect upon these discussions. There is a need for more tools and assignments to be shared within the science teacher education community to better support PSTs’ preparation, enactment, and reflection of teaching practices (Arias & Davis, 2017; Benedict-Chambers, 2016; Benedict-Chambers & Aram, 2017).

Context of Tool Development: Lottero-Perdue (hereafter, Lottero) was a participant and collaborator within an NSF study (grant #1621344) by Mikeska and Howell. As part of the study, the PSTs in Lottero’s elementary methods courses at Towson University (TU) learned to facilitate argumentation discussions within a simulated classroom consisting of five upper-elementary student avatars. The PSTs led three separate argumentation discussions throughout the semester. Among other project objectives, Mikeska and Howell wanted to see how teacher educators (like Lottero) in their study helped the PSTs prepare to lead and then reflect upon those discussions.
Lottero was also part of a group of PBTE Faculty Fellows at TU, led by Finkelstein, which supported faculty as they developed PBTE activities and tools. Both of the tools discussed in the workshop emerged as idea seeds from PBTE Faculty Fellow meetings and/or sessions with Finkelstein. Lottero developed them fully for use in her elementary science methods course in spring 2020. Mikeska and Lottero separately collected evidence of their effectiveness.

This workshop highlights discussion frame and focused transcript coding use around one of the three discussions, “Changing Matter,” in Lottero’s course. With regard to transcript coding, we use a transcript from PST Paul (pseudonym), who had facilitated the discussion in the previous semester.

Discussion Frames. The discussion frames were three-column, tabular-format, graphic organizers used to help PSTs prepare for the avatar discussion. The first column includes three components of the “High-Leverage Practice” (HLP) of leading a group discussion: framing-launching, orchestrating, and framing/concluding (TeachingWorks, 2020). Lottero created the second column according to five features (and respective sub-features) of high-quality argumentation discussions (Mikeska, Howell, & Straub, 2019). The third column provides space for PSTs to write what they plan to address, ask, or prompt during the discussion relevant to each discussion segment and sub-feature. As an assignment, discussion frames included some example responses by Lottero and were then completed by PSTs. Scoring tools were used to grade these and Lottero provided formative feedback prior to each discussion. For the Changing Matter discussion, most of the discussion frame work done by PSTs related to Feature 3 Promoting Student Interactions and Feature 5 Engaging Students in Argumentation.

Focused Transcript Coding. Throughout the semester, focused transcript coding involved PSTs coding a transcript of argumentation discussions from: (1) another PST (e.g., from a previous semester) and/or (2) their own enactment. Each transcript coding assignment involved coding and reflecting on the sub-features of two aspects of high-quality argumentation discussions. For the Changing Matter discussion, Lottero had her PSTs code sub-features of Features 3 and 5 in Paul’s transcript as preparation to facilitate their own Changing Matter discussion. A scoring tool was used to grade these and Lottero provided formative feedback.

Anticipated Participants

This workshop will be most pertinent to teacher educators who work directly with preservice teachers at the elementary and middle school levels. It is also relevant to those interested in professional learning experiences in argumentation for in-service teachers. Additionally, we suspect that those who conduct research in argumentation, evidence-based reasoning, and the use of simulated classroom environments would be interested in this session.

Workshop Presenters

Dr. Lottero is a professor of science and engineering education at Towson University (TU). She is principal investigator on a TU School of Emerging Technologies grant focused on investigating how elementary teachers facilitate argumentation discussions in science and engineering with student avatars. She was a collaborator on the NSF-funded Goal Oriented Discussions project and was a PBTE Faculty Fellow; in these roles, she developed the discussion frame and focused transcript coding tools. Lottero has led numerous professional learning experiences and taught many methods and content courses for pre-service teachers.

Dr. Mikeska is a research scientist in the Student and Teacher Research Center at ETS and is currently principal investigator of two NSF-funded research studies, one of which—Goal Oriented Discussions—is designed to develop, pilot, and validate a set of performance-based tasks delivered within a simulated classroom environment in order to improve preservice elementary teachers’ ability to facilitate argumentation discussions in science and mathematics. Mikeska also has experience teaching elementary science methods courses and has studied science teacher learning in professional development across multiple research studies.

Dr. Finkelstein is associate professor in the Department of Instructional Leadership and Professional Development at TU. In addition to teaching graduate courses to teachers and teacher leaders, she founded and facilitates TU’s PBTE Faculty Fellows program, which offers selected faculty a collaborative space for professional learning about PBTE pedagogies and high-leverage practices, research support, and instructional coaching by Finkelstein. Finkelstein’s research focuses on the relational dynamics in teacher learning, including a recent study on science teacher professional development.

Learning Objectives, Activities, Strategies, and Effectiveness

In this workshop session, participants will:
[1] Share their initial ideas about argumentation (5 min)
[2] Through slides, learn about two features of high-quality science discussions (5 min)
[3] Through slides, be introduced to key parts of the “Changing Matter” discussion task and the transcript coding assignment (10 min)
[4] Watch segments of PST Paul’s video-recorded discussion and code the corresponding transcript. Discuss coded excerpts. (15 min)
[5] Through slides, be introduced to the discussion frame assignment. (5 min)
[6] Complete—in collaborative groups—a discussion frame for the Changing Matter discussion. (15 min)
[7] Discuss how these tools can be used in and outside of the context of simulated classroom discussions. (5 min)

The following are examples of questions that we will use to engage participants during the workshop:
• What do you know about what a high-quality argumentation discussion involves?
• What are some prompts that Paul used to encourage student-to-student interactions?
• What are some prompts that you (as the teacher) could use to encourage students to share evidence-based reasoning and critique one another’s ideas?
• How might you consider integrating these tools into your courses or professional learning sessions?

Participants in this workshop will learn to:
[1] Use focused transcript coding to help PSTs to prepare for and reflect upon their facilitation of argumentation discussions.
[2] Use discussion frames to help PSTs to prepare for their facilitation of argumentation discussions.
[3] Consider how these tools can be applied in their own teacher education settings.
We will assess the workshop’s effectiveness in two ways. First, we will request that workshop attendees complete a written feedback form at the conclusion of the workshop to inform us about their perceptions on the activities and structure of the session, what they learned, and what and how they plan to apply what they learned in their own settings. Second, we will also observe the ways in which the participants engage in the focused (partial) transcript analysis and contribute ideas to address parts of the discussion frame.

One important note about our proposed workshop: If the ASTE 2021 conference is held online, we can easily facilitate our session in an online environment. We could do it in its entirety synchronously or divide it into asynchronous preparation and synchronous discussion sections.

Communication/Availability: Following the workshop, we will share an electronic folder—containing discussion frames, transcript coding instructions, etc.—with participants, enabling them to apply what they learned in their own contexts. We will also encourage attendees to add any additional resources they have created, used, and/or learned about related to creating practice-based learning opportunities for teachers to learn to facilitate argumentation discussions. We will also create a form within this folder where conference attendees can share ideas and pose questions to us and to one another about how to apply what they learned in their own settings.

Diversity/Equity: Equity connects to our session in that the features of high-quality argumentation discussion that we address encourage all students to share their ideas and interact with one another during the discussion. This is relevant to all contexts in which argumentation discussions occur. In our particular simulated classroom discussion, the five student avatars represent a diverse group of students with respect to gender, race, and ethnicity.